Equal opportunities will bring growth

Lars Ronnas Correspondent
If we accept the premise of the old song “Money makes the world go around”, International Women’s Day should be a wake-up call for all of us who are concerned about economic growth and development.

In fact, gender equality is increasingly seen as a necessity if investments in education and health are to bring good returns to a society as a whole. No wonder that people usually interested in economic figures are paying more and more attention to addressing unequal opportunities between men and women. Plainly speaking, discrimination against women is a waste no society can afford. We have already come far in our efforts to create a more gender equal world. More women are now participating and represented in political spheres and bodies. Lobby organisations and women’s leagues have all done a remarkable work to achieve this. And women representation is key if the other challenge about resources is to be addressed.

The price of inequality

Still in 2016, a hugely disproportional percentage of the world’s wealth is vested in the hands of men. This is so despite the fact that women make up half the world’s population. Last year, Mckinsey Global Institute found that up to $28 trillion (or 26 percent) could be added to our global GDP by 2025 if women were given the exact same opportunities, positions and roles as those of men on the labour market.

This is of course only a rough figure if women maximised the potential economic returns from equal participation and engagement on the labour markets. Think about it; millions of women and men are bound to “lose” trillions of potential US dollars merely due to gender inequality. Much progress has been made in the field of education. Today young women graduate with skills and university degrees to an extent which compares well with young men, in some countries even outpacing them. Education brings better prospects for the individual woman or man. It is also an investment to any society.

Understanding this is something deeply embedded into the Zimbabwean society. However, like in many other countries, social prejudices and narrow-minded attitudes prevent young women from making full use of the skills and knowledge they have acquired. It is our common challenge to identify and remove these obstacles.

We cannot afford to not change gender inequalities

Not only is this about moral and social responsibility — it is also about economic responsibility. We cannot afford to not change gender inequalities.

Throughout the world, millions of women are prevented from making good use of their full abilities, and the consequence is that families and societies are missing out on obvious returns which could help improve living standards, pay school fees and develop societies as a whole. The 2010 ILO paper “Women in Labour Market” confirms that when women enter the workforce, their gains and returns are more likely — than men’s — to be spent on housing, school fees, nutrition and medicines, resulting in healthier families and children who excel in school. This all suggests the already known; women’s participation is amongst the most important factors for reducing poverty in developing countries!

Brave men dare strong women

While the younger generations across the globe are starting to recognise the benefits of increased gender equality, we still have very far to go! Many men still see women’s growing social and economic independence as threat to their egos and fortunes. Fears and myths continue to prevail that men will lose their “inherited” social and economic status if women are socially and economically emancipated.

Fears which paradoxically often lead to an increase in gender-based violence and sexual harassment. However, studies have shown that a more equal relationship between men and women tends to bring more happiness to a marriage. In as much as a woman could be proud of a successful husband, the vice versa will hold as much truth.

Last year, here in Harare, I signed up to the worldwide He4She campaign launched by UNWOMEN.

I did so because I want my daughters — and my sons — to be proud of their father.

I urge you to do the same!

Lars Ronnås is the Ambassador of Sweden to Zimbabwe

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